Ride South! ⬇️– In Colombia! San Francisco to Patagonia on an R NineT & HP2 Enduro

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by caliform, Nov 25, 2015.

  1. td63

    td63 Been here awhile Supporter

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    Beautiful.

    Rang in the 2016 New Year on Atitlan, doing do-gooder volunteer stuff with a group of students in some of the surrounding villages. Beautiful place and people for sure.

    Brought home a virulent lil souvenir buddy from the lake, tho...but even in the emergency room I found myself thinking "so. totally. worth it."

    Keep it coming!
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  2. caliform

    caliform Been here awhile

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    It's truly fascinating. On my last day in Atitlan, I actually went around town to buy something for my girlfriend and found locally woven pants. The weavers take immense pride in their craft and have unique patterns for their region and for their particular people. Beautiful, vivid crafts. I wish we could communicate more; many barely speak Spanish, but at least we could hand-gesture and makeshift communicate so we knew they did not object to having their photo taken. Thank you, Sno Dawg!

    Thanks Hooligan! We got a lot more in the works. We leave for Costa Rica on Nov 23, so we'll be on the road again and this time I will take more time to update the RR (famous last words) while we're on it. The least I can do between then is to take time between prepping to make sure have the entire story here.

    That must've been very special. I would imagine they have a very unique way of celebrating new year's! Hope you got over the 'souvenir' OK, yikes.
  3. caliform

    caliform Been here awhile

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    With the girlfriend in Joshua Tree at the moment for her birthday so apologies for the brief pause in updates! Will resume again this weekend.

    We’ll be having a departure party in San Francisco soon! Come by Bender’s on South van Ness this Wednesday Nov 21, 8-late. Pick up some of our cool new shirts / stickers, have a beer and say bye before we’re on the road for many months again!

    Attached Files:

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  4. caliform

    caliform Been here awhile

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    JAN 13

    San Pedro de Atitlan has two roads going out of it: one that goes back the way we came, through the hairpin fun-zone, and one that was repeatedly (even on ADVRider) marked as too dangerous too cross. It was unpaved and ran the periphery of the lake, right unit it hits one of the volcanoes and tickles its back, carving a route south of the slope and then looping back to the lake to Santiago Atitlan until finally meeting a road south at San Lucas Tolmán.

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    Well, this sounds fun…

    We did ask the lone police guy we’d been seeing in town and he didn’t really seem to have an opinion on the road. “¿Es peligroso, el camino?”, we’d ask, and he’d just shrug. Good enough for us. An American told us not to do it. Lots of robberies.

    The thing is, we have fast bikes. And not that much to lose. And we love scenic byways. So in the morning, after having gotten some fruity breakfast by the lake — fresh fruit and vegetables are everywhere in Guatemala, and incredibly cheap at that! — we set off to ride this mysterious and supposedly dangerous road.

    Breakfast first! It was a sunny day today, none of the clouds from yesterday (yet):

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    This girl was just riding her horse through town, alone. She can’t have been older than 8 or 9.

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    A funny syndrome of riding the Americas so far has been something I like to refer to as Relative Southern Danger. Wherever you are, whether it’s the US, a Mexican state or any South-American country, up until Costa Rica you’ll encounter a particular conversation with the locals.

    You’ll first tell them others have told you it can be dangerous around here. “Ahh, no!”, they will exclaim. “The [area South of wherever you are] is the dangerous part. Around here, it’s quite safe.” The area in question can be the next country over, the next Mexican town or state south of you, or even something like a road. This will continue for some time until you reach Costa Rica, where it’s hard to claim things are less safe than Nicaragua.

    It’s almost always an exaggeration. By all means, follow common sense, but also take things with a grain of salt. And a grain of recklessness.

    The loop out of San Pedro is gorgeous, and quickly climbs to beautiful fields and farms.

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    Farmers were out here and looked surprised to see us, and all waved us hello. That was nice. We waved back.

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    Eventually the paved section ends and you drop rather precipitously (seriously, I think the drop was almost a foot, as if someone had just… disappeared the road) into a sandy wash and the fun dirt road begins. I suspect they were building more pavement here; lots of men were working on the road and they were all in a great mood. And again, rather surprised to see us. We said hi and chatted for a bit before blasting down the dirt.

    It was definitely a rough dirt road. The constant water from the slopes carves channels and rocks out of the road and at times it was kind of a shit-show, with riverbed rocks and ruts all over the place.

    It didn’t help that at times, an astonishingly stunning vista of the lake and its volcanic rim would come into view, momentarily distract you, and then lure your bike’s front wheel into a massive rock. All part of the game around Atitlan… Ah, Atitlan, you beautiful devil. Distracting, yet so demanding.

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    After about an hour or so, we’d rounded the ‘terrible’ road and were on a beautiful sinuous paved road towards Santiago. Little farms and buildings dotted the route, the sun played through the leaves overhead and we soon found ourselves in San Lucas.

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    Here, I’d say goodbye to Stu. It didn’t make any sense for him to follow me at my breakneck pace to Costa Rica, so he’d stay down here and explore Guatemala before also riding at a gentle pace to Costa Rica to sell his bike there. We’ll resume the ride at a later point, when we’re ready for it.

    For now, it was goodbye. The town square was as great a place as any to say bye, and I felt a strong tug at my heart as he left. You get very close to a friend as you ride the Earth with them; you share hotel rooms with your stinky gear, brave what might be mortal danger with them and push yourself to and perhaps through limits you never knew you had. And now, I’d be alone. It felt weird.

    [​IMG]He’s a great dude. I wished him the best, we pointed bikes in opposite directions, and off I went.

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    The road out of Santiago quickly meets up with the Guatemala highway 11, which blasts straight south between some volcanoes on a gentle jungle-y downslope. After I rolled through this scenic route, there was a sort of intersection of four roads where I grabbed some quick food, a fresh coconut, and set off for Antigua.

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    Antigua is a gorgeous town. According to my admittedly limited understanding of Spanish, ‘Antigua’ stands for ‘Antique’ or ‘Old’; as in, it’s the old city. The tiny city is a great example of gorgeous colonial architecture, and its set right between imposing volcanoes, which is kind of the Guatemalan thing to do.

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    I rolled in to El Hostal and rolled my bike into the lobby as was customary. This is always a great conversation starter with fellow hostel-mates and I made friends in no time.

    While my time in Antigua was going to be brief (sadly — if you go here, stay a few days and hike the volcanoes, seriously) I made sure to hit some places. CA Moto Tours and Cafe is a motorcycle rental joint in Antigua and I dropped by to chat a bit about bikes and life. Super fun people, those! They talked a bit about Tolga (known as ‘Ride Must Go On’ or just ‘Ride Must’ on Instagram) who’d been through earlier. It’s a small adventure-motorcycle world!

    I discovered the American Embassy:

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    And just sauntered around a bit to take some photos:

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    And found a BBQ joint in town. Don’t get me wrong, I love local food, but sometimes you gotta take a newfound hostel friend (and moto tours office) recommendation and grab something smokey and delicious and wash it down with local beers.

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    A big benefit of my pick of lodging, El Hostal, is its proximity to Cafe No Se. I’m a big fan of mezcal — that’s no secret — and this place was the birthplace of Illegal Mezcal, a little-known mezcal at first but now commonly found in the US as an upscale tipple. It’s a great stiff drink and this tiny bar / café matches its character: it’s a raucous place, full of weirdos and dirtbags. 100% my thing.

    For once, I enjoyed a bit of solitude at the bar. While it was pretty busy, I walked in at the right time to get a stool at the bar and chatted a bit with the bartender — over some mezcal, natch — before writing a bit. In the smoky, busy ambiance I reflected on my newfound solitude. It was refreshing, different, strange and a bit lonely. You really get used to being so close to someone on the road for months, and the change was kind of profound.

    I enjoyed my meditative drinks, internalizing and processing all the sights and experiences of the last weeks, as rowdy bodies crammed into the bar, burning up the last oil of an exotic warm Wednesday night. I caught wisps of stories of selling psychedelics to fuel a trip around the Americas for years, hitchhiking in faraway deserts, how homesickness was the sound of the creek next to the ranch they grew up in. Everyone’s singular, beautiful stories echoing off the walls in a faraway place. I was alone, and yet, I felt a sense of immense belonging.

    ———

    JAN 14

    Sunrise came the next day and despite the mezcal I had an easy time getting up and prepping the bike. After just two brief days I was leaving Guatemala, easily one of my new favorite countries. It was time to ride to Honduras.

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    An easygoing breakfast at El Hostal laid a good foundation for a walk around town. One more photo walk? One more photo walk:

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    This place is so stunning. The energy on Antigua is unique, and its people wonderful. A city I’d love to come back to.

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    Better leave a sticker to remind myself of that.

    I rode around town a bit with a newly made motorcycle friend who was a local, who was hoping to help me find some synthetic oil. Unfortunately we had little success, but he did show me a nice mirador, or viewpoint:

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    It’s easy to understand why people felt like this was a place for religious significance and reflection.

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    Ah. I love Antigua. I love Guatemala. It was rough to leave. I put a reminder on the bike:

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    And started my six-hour ride to the border.

    Guatemalan highways were surprisingly well maintained. I had a rough time getting through traffic in Guatemala City and got lost through a few of its confusing road layouts, which sent me through some dodgy barrios and into some even crazier traffic, but I made work of it.

    By the time I reached the Honduran border, it was getting dark.

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    Darkness seems to tap the will to work out of the Guatemalan border workers, and I found myself almost tempted to use the services of the always-present, always-annoying ‘helpers’ that offer to speed you along the border if you pay them. It almost never actually works, and you end up supporting a rather annoying practice, so I never did.

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    But a solid hour of copying paperwork, waiting for computers and general bureaucratic nonsense later, I was allowed to head to Honduras.

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    Mr. Hat here did change my Guatemalan quetzals for Honduran currency, which was nice.

    After stamping myself out and canceling my import permit, it was time to do the reverse in Honduras. It was pitch black as I walked into the abandoned and large custom’s office.

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    Honduras’ border must have been influenced by the Big Copier lobby, as you need 4 copies of everything. I was sent to a small room to do copying of all sorts of documents: my passport, the vehicle registration, my drivers license, the vehicle title… and after getting all that, copies of my stamped documents. It took a while, and then the officer demanded a rather high price for my vehicle entry.

    I’m not entirely sure if there is a fixed price to enter Honduras. From what I’ve heard, it is one of the worst countries as far as bizarre border inconsistencies go, with some people being forced to pay tons of cash to get in. I was being asked about $30, which seemed exceptionally high coming from Guatemala.

    I ended up calling a friend to ask him to Google the fees. Danny, the friend, picked up the phone terrified, assuming I had been kidnapped and this was finally the call where I asked him to wire tens of thousands of dollars before they started sending a variety of my appendages in registered air mail to my family.

    It wasn’t quite that dramatic. Failing to find a definitive answer, I paid the man, which in retrospect seemed to be the legitimate price. Who knows? Forget it Jake, it’s Honduras.

    It was late enough at this point anyway, and I wanted to just end the day.

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    The last bit of light outside was the green glow of my GPS, which pointed me to a hotel in Copán just a bit down the road. That’d do. Cold air brushed my face as I cautiously but enthusiastically rolled into Honduras, through a curvy road, into unseen unknowns.
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  5. caliform

    caliform Been here awhile

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    For those that are super perceptive: I have lowered image quality and size a bit, as it was getting really tough with big updates to load a single page of the thread. Perhaps this'll help. If it doesn't, I might scale down the images even more. Feedback always welcome!
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  6. RedDogAlberta

    RedDogAlberta High Plains Drifter

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    Continued goodness. :clap
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  7. Ohio_Danimal

    Ohio_Danimal If I die trying, at least I tried Supporter

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    Enjoying every bit
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  8. td63

    td63 Been here awhile Supporter

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    So good!

    I think this is the home of Bernard Diaz del Castillo, who wrote the mindblowing grandaddy of all adventure blogs: The True History of the Conquest of New Spain, published in 1576. He was a soldier with Cortez during the conquest and this is his nonfiction memoir -- one of the strangest and compelling and awesome and horrific reads out there. Pure badassery (Hey, we're 1,000 dudes taking over a whole f---ing continent! Booyah!) meets pure evil (Hey, we're 1,000 dudes taking over a whole f---ing continent)....and just a fascinating, first hand glimpse into one of the most profoundly pivotal moments in history: right smack where y'all have been riding. Check it out if you haven't already.

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  9. caliform

    caliform Been here awhile

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    Holy shit, that's really awesome and horrifying. I am going to load it on my phone so I can read it on the flight to Costa Rica. Thank you!
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  10. caliform

    caliform Been here awhile

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    JAN 15

    I set an alarm to wake up early in the morning to get a solid breakfast in and check out Copan Ruinas before it’d be swarmed by the less dedicated (and more flush on time) tourists. [​IMG]

    I had the hilarious privilege of taking a tuk-tuk to the site — I really wanted to ride one and I didn’t really feel like having my bike at a tourist-heavy site where people could rummage through my stuff or steal my jacket. I hopped in one in the main square of Copan and we booked it through town.

    [​IMG]I think the reckless abandon of tuk-tuk and scooter / small motorbike riders in places like Honduras is a true inspiration. The guy could really ride, and it felt like really lifted a wheel off the ground in some turns. Other tourists might not appreciate the stomach churning ride as much as I did. I thought it was awesome and over far too quickly.

    The Copan site is a marvelous example of Mayan architecture. While it looks like an overgrown ruin, it was a site of worship from the 5th to 9th century AD. Kind of bizarre to think that as little as 1100 years ago, the site that is now the ruins of Copán was a living city.

    At the main site of Copan Ruinas (which is right on the highway as you exit Copan) you pay an entry fee and then walk into the park. Most people opt for a tour, which I’d probably recommend. While there’s signs around that can inform you about what you are looking at, if you’re with a few people the extra background is probably fun to hear about.

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    I was so early (and had no fixed plans) that I was actually the first person at the site. It was marvelously, splendidly, absolutely empty. I was blissfully alone in what looked like an overgrown Mayan temple site. Or so I assumed. A dreadful roar rang through the jungle trees and smaller birds flew off as the roar increased in ear-piercing intensity.

    I assumed it was some god awful jungle predator or perhaps a person being murdered, but it was the combined cries of the scarlet macaws that call the ruins home. Some apparently live in a small fixed home on the perimeter of the site and they’d all flown to the tree that grows out of the top of the largest ruin on the site. Gorgeous creatures to look at, but they make the absolute worst sounds.

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    I wandered around the site and really marveled in some of the preserved details and massive scale of it all, with beautiful views of rolling jungle from some parts of the temples, until I left the site in a sort of roundabout way.

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    It was interesting to fantasize about how differently things could’ve looked if the Mayans had developed their cities in parallel with ours and weren’t destroyed so thoroughly by many factors; Copan, like many other Mayan sites, fell before the Spanish conqueror even appeared.

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    [​IMG][​IMG]Some theorize it was because of a catastrophic famine, but there are many theories abound. It’s interesting to think that in a different parallel universe, these temples stand tall, pristine, in the center of a large modern town like the magnificent cathedrals of Europe.

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    That looks out over rolling jungles.

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    A small walk East of Copan’s main ruins site is a much smaller, still-overgrown site you can visit for a very modest fee. This is a site that is under active investigation and excavation, with small portions of it excavated and visible. It’s fascinating to me to see how people work to excavate and preserve this crucial piece of human history, and I’m happy that even in an exceptionally poor nation like Honduras people seem to understand the gravity of sites like these and the need to protect them. I hope it stays that way.

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    Next to the site, it’s life as usual.

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    Who knows what still lies buried beneath the adjacent fields?

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    It was getting hotter and the sun was rising in the sky, so I decided to grab a tuk-tuk back (weeee!) and ride out. Right after Copan, the highway gets… fun. Dirty and fun.

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    The truck here didn’t have as much fun as I did.

    Given my short time and reading a bit about the rather high homicide rates in Honduras, I decided to kind of skip Honduras. Outside of Copan, Honduras does offer some great spots with wonderful nature, great scuba diving and more, but I wanted to get to Nicaragua and take enough time to cross the borders ahead.

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    I was somewhere halfway in Copan when it finally happened: the cops stopped me on a long stretch of road. Observant readers have have noticed that outside of some military checkpoints in Baja and near Matzlan we haven’t really had any encounters with cops. Many people have horror stories of being extorted or having to bribe their way through countries in Central America, but we’d been spared — so far.

    The car appeared in my mirror and flashed its lights. It was an official looking vehicle with some heavily armed military police toting machine guns, so I was cautious but accepted being pulled over. As it happens, around the bend was a checkpoint with a bunch more military police looking types.

    I had been making good time across Honduras. Really good time, actually; I was going pretty fast. I enjoyed opening up the throttle on empty and clear stretches, where I could safely use my 1200 cubic centimeters of engine which usually just weighed me down on fun trails.

    “Hola amigo!” I yelled, all smiles as I took my helmet off and the cop walked up. He fired off in rapid Spanish: “Do you know how fast you were going?”. I laughed a bit and answered “No, sorry. Is there a problem?”

    Some of his friends spilled out of the car and they rapidly surrounded the bike. His friends at the checkpoint had also taken an interest at the scene and were all walking over. I was doing mental math in my head. I wasn’t sure if I had enough cash to pay all of these guys off if they wanted a bribe. And who would I even bribe? I was such a newbie at this stuff. I’d probably screw it up and end up with a mess on my hands.

    Without answering my question, the cop asked me “How many CCs?” with a curious look thrown at the cylinders sticking far out my bike. The crowd of seven or so military police was circling my bike like a group of curious sharks. “M- Mille dos ciento!” I said enthusiastically. Twelve hundred! Questions were now being fired at me from all directions. How fast does it go? What brand bike is this? It’s super fast isn’t it? Where are you coming from? What is this? What does this thing (my Spot beacon) do? We chatted a bunch, and it seemed they were all just getting a kick out of this weird gringo on his giant bike. They offered me a cigarette and I declined and asked if I was OK to leave. “Si, si, claro amigo! Buen viaje!”

    And with a wave and some laughter from the cops (and a few stickers lighter) I roared off, taking extra care to really rip as I departed. Sometimes your encounters with the police can be fun. I’m sure others have had nightmarish encounters, but I felt like my friendliness and being utterly unintimidated probably helped me a bit. The other part that helped was having a fast bike. Fun times!

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    Honduras wasn’t quite as small as I’d assumed, and I was forced to retire my lofty goal of making it across the country in one day as it got dark as I was riding out of a gorgeous mountain pass near Comayagua.

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    The roadwork had delayed me quite a bit, and I felt tired. I’d gotten in two near-crashes that day because of insane drivers — my only close calls so far — and I felt like I was pushing myself too hard. On top of it all, I was too generous in estimating my progress for the day, so I ended up riding after sundown in a crappy outskirt of a larger town. It was sketchy-feeling, and the gas station attendant told me to get the hell out of that area. After getting a tip from him (a very friendly local) I rode up out of the barrio and found a decent hotel with safe parking near the town square of Comayagua.

    I think on any motorcycle trip, regardless of your pace or schedule, you’ll have days where you feel like you’re pushing yourself. It’s entirely OK to do so, but there’s also times where you realize you push yourself too far. For me, this day was one of those days. In an unknown country, which already had many risks, I basically traded more risks for getting somewhere a bit faster. That tradeoff is simply never worth it. Don’t do what I did.

    The border was three more hours of riding away. I hit the bed and instantly passed out.

    ———

    JAN 16

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    Still on the early-morning rhythm of my Copan trip, I woke up nice and early the next day and rode out of town quickly. The road to the border was a quick and easy shot straight across Honduras, and some nice scenic curves spit me right out near an absolutely massive procession of trucks that probably went on for miles.

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    When I run into traffic like this at a border, I just ride up past them. Trucks and other traffic usually gets a different type of treatment than ridiculous motorcycle touring gringos, and if they don’t they’ll tell you in no uncertain terms. My assumption was correct.

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    The Honduras/Nicaragua border is a fairly straightforward affair, but you do have to take some time for it. On the Honduran side, I ran into what must’ve been the biggest pack of ‘helpers’ I’d seen on my trip so far which I had to practically swat off. Once at the passport control, I met a rather unmotivated team of customs and border control people that weren’t spectacularly happy to tell me what to do or how to go about it.

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    Regardless, after about an hour of talking to various desk jockeys I got myself stamped out of Honduras — less than 48 hours after getting my entry stamp — and I was on my way to Nicaragua.

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    I met a jolly bunch of helpers on the Nicaraguan side which I only used to find someone to change my Honduran money into something Nicaraguan. For once, I had no data service, so no way to check the exchange rate. I just went with what the guy suggested as a rate and later found out it was surprisingly reasonable.

    The basic Central American business is done entering Nicaragua: a ‘quick’ passport stamp (there was a line of perhaps 50 people this time, and they took a break halfway into processing them), and vehicle import work. They once again diligently checked the VIN on my bike and all the paperwork. They made errors three different times on the documents, forcing me to ask them to fix the VIN and my name until it was completely accurate. Never settle for a slight inaccuracy of one character on your document as it can cause a huge headache down the road as you try to exit.

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    Nicaragua also had me go to a set of tents to get fumigated (well, the bike did…) and to get insurance. With insurance and a fumigation paper I went back to the vehicle import window and they quickly processed my paperwork. “No copias?” I asked, incredulous. No, the customs officer said with a smile; he’d do them himself, no need. That was a first. As he copied the paperwork I snuck a Ride Earth sticker under the window and I rode off.

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    Thumbs up!

    Total time for the border crossing: three hours.

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    I rode off from the border, grabbing a drink from some friendly merchants who were selling refreshments to the tired truckers trying to make their way into Honduras, and smiled as warm Nicaraguan forest air flowed through my helmet. This was going to be a good country, I could feel it.
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  11. caliform

    caliform Been here awhile

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    While it wasn’t quite a full day, the border crossing into Nicaragua had taken a bit more time than I would’ve liked. As I mentioned before, when it comes to Central American border crossings, it’s best to assume they’ll take quite a bit of time. I ‘budget’ about a day to cross one; if it takes less time than that, then great; I’ll use that time to explore and find a nice spot.

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    So hey: Time to find a nice spot with the time I had. After the border, the terrain changes a bit. You ride through stunning forest on a beautiful road (really, I was shouting into my helmet how amazed I was at the quality of the pavement). Wonderful twisties sling into slowly into lower, drier land and you’ll eventually hit the town of Palacagüina. I made a gas and snack stop and weighed my options. I’d heard nice things about Léon, and it was a fairly quick ride there.

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    It was 2:13 PM. Doable? I guess I’d find out!

    I passed through some areas where the locals were burning fields and it created some very cool light for a motorcycle glam shot or two:

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    Nicaragua really enchanted me with gorgeous landscapes out of the gate. Things got a lot more monotonous and dry as I progressed south-east, until I turned onto Nicaragua Ruta 26, a somewhat straight-shot two lane road right to Léon.

    Out of many rides through Central American countries, for some reason, this particular stretch really stuck with me. I don’t know if it was the unique, purple and orange light that preceded the sunset that started casting itself on the small, makeshift homes between the thin forests that lined the road or the interesting pockets of dwellings I rode by. It might’ve been the looming turrets of volcanic buttes and mounds that dotted the landscape in the far distance, making for an alien and new landscape, or the entirely-new shade of volcanic brown that the soil took on.

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    Either way, it felt magical; a really unique, and different place to be riding, which was nevertheless ruthlessly casting longer and longer shadows as I rode through it.

    It wasn’t looking very good for me. I was racing the sunset. It’s not a race I won.
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    In my resignation, I pulled over and took a few shots of the ridiculous view. I was on a small two-lane road, which a clear view of spectacular volcanoes on my side; the brilliant orange—yellow sunset light creating a for-once harmless conflagration of their slopes, a light-show that defied superlatives. Stars were already visible and barely a car passed by while I sighed into my helmet.

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    I kept riding, feeling like a bit of a moron. I remembered how things turned out in Honduras and I decided against pressing on. I pulled into a marked turnoff for a small town.

    I often use previous ride reports, tips from friends and other travelers or something like iOverlander to find a nice spot to stay. I had no data, so this was going to be a fun adventure. I barely knew where I was. That made my first order of business was finding a bit of food and a beer.

    At the restaurant, I asked the locals who were extremely surprised to see a giant space suit wearing gringo if there was a hotel in town. There was one! Just… one. With two rooms. I was happy to have a spot and wandered the town, which was having a religious parade of some kind:

    It was impressive and I would’ve loved to find out more about tit, but after a solid 500 km day it was time for some rest.

    –––

    JAN 17

    The sole restaurant / cantina of sorts in town wasn’t open for breakfast so a quick load-up in the blazing Nicaraguan heat and I was off to go to Léon. I could go on the main road, but it looked like there was a trail into town that was dirt…

    [​IMG]

    Easy choice! I did run into some traffic, so some lanesplitting was required:

    [​IMG]

    The road wasn’t incredibly scenic as it was dug into the landscape, but it did have some fun technical bits with rocky parts and deep sand in addition to cattle dodging. In about an hour or so I was in Léon.

    [​IMG][​IMG]

    Hmmm, dirt. I love it. I had washed off some of the previous dirt with some low water crossings and it was now time to properly dirty it again.

    [​IMG]

    I made a quick stop for breakfast in Léon and decided to push on for Granada. It looked a bit more fun than Léon, which I didn’t find all that appealing.

    [​IMG]

    Granada is a beautiful town, reminiscent of Antigua Guatemala. I settled on grabbing a spot near the lake to explore the town and relax a bit.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Colorful buildings with volcanic backdrops; the Central-American speciality. Granada has a bustling center, but if you’re staying near the water you can explore it without having to put up with the overly-touristy buzz of the main square.

    [​IMG][​IMG]

    The weather took a turn for the worse later in the day.

    [​IMG]

    I took the early afternoon arrival to grab local fish lunch, walk around and generally relax a bit. The pace of the last few days had been intense, so it was nice to kick back. At night, I met a few other overland travelers and had a pleasant dinner with them in the touristy-but-fun-bustle-y center of town and even drank a few (good!) local brews.

    It’s great that microbreweries are just about anywhere now, which makes for better drinking than a dozen of Nicaraguan’s regular Toña lagers.

    –––

    JAN 18

    Relaxation day was over, and since I budgeted only one day to get from Nicaragua to Costa Rica and my girlfriend was coming in on the 22nd, I had some time to explore something I’d really wanted to go explore: the island of Ometepe.

    [​IMG]

    It’s a quick jaunt down to San Jorge from Granada, where you can grab a ferry to the island. Ometepe is a volcanic island, formed by twin volcanoes that pop out of the massive lake Cocibolca.

    [​IMG]

    Ferry tickets are bought at the dock.

    [​IMG][​IMG]

    This is why you bring your own ratchet straps, folks! It’s worth noting there’s two different ferries, but the other one isn’t exactly great for vehicles; it’s a much smaller boat. You might be able to get a motorcycle on it, but it’d require some skill.

    Anyway, for this one the price was 50 cordobas for a person and 420 (heh heh) for a vehicle. After chit-chatting with some of the people on the dock (with a Toña or two) and talking shop about bikes they simply let me on the ferry for free.

    They even let me play Captain for a bit:

    [​IMG][​IMG]

    I like Nicaraguans.

    While it was a bit windy and choppy the day before, today was smooth sailing with some white-heads and rocking but nothing terrible. A beautiful view of the island was paired with intermittent rainbows of light casting through the lake waves the bow was smashing through.

    [​IMG]

    It was already getting a bit late by the time we made it to the dock. Longer shadows cast from the ship and golden light was playing all over the island.
    [​IMG]

    I travel rather spontaneously, so I hadn’t really looked into where I should stay or eat. As the sun was setting, I found myself on a far more important mission: Finding the best possible spot for watching the sun set into the beautiful, vast lake. I rolled off the ferry and quickly zoomed through the tiny port town and onto the ring road that loops around the volcanoes.

    I came across the island’s airstrip, which you get to drive on — a first for me!
    [​IMG][​IMG]

    A short distance down the road from the airstrip was a dirt trail, leading to two farms near the water.

    [​IMG]I asked the (also motorcycle owning!) owners if I could pay them to stay on their beach and they happily welcomed me, offering me food and a beautiful spot to pitch my tent and watch the last rays of sunshine lick the faraway mountains as the weather cooled.

    [​IMG]

    This will do.
  12. caliform

    caliform Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2014
    Oddometer:
    879
    Location:
    San Francisco
    Drinking (and selling the new Ride Earth merch with proceeds going to victims of the Camp Fire) at Bender's in San Francisco tonight. Next RR update tomorrow, then a short guide on how I stored my bike in CR and we're off Saturday night to fly down and get back on 'er!
    Old_Fat_and_Slow and powderzone like this.
  13. caliform

    caliform Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2014
    Oddometer:
    879
    Location:
    San Francisco
    So good to see two fellow inmates last night at our going away party! It was a pleasure — we raised over $600 for the victims of the Camp Fire.

    JAN 19

    Do you ever wake up and have a moment of absolute puzzlement as you forgot where you are? Well, I woke up confused on the edge of the water as the I heard the sounds of livestock and splashing. I’d forgotten where I was for a moment.

    [​IMG]

    Ah, I am on Ometepe. A farmer brought his cattle to the lake as I rubbed my eyes.
    [​IMG]

    I had two days to really explore the island. A small road circles the two volcanoes, which isn’t longer than 80 kilometers. With the bike, you can easily see it all in a day.

    [​IMG]

    I packed up my camp and almost immediately crashed as I steered the bike in some deep sand on the way out. Fun stuff, sand. The weather today was perfect:
    [​IMG]

    On the east side of the island, the pavement ends and I’m once again in dirt road heaven.

    [​IMG][​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    So nice to take it easy and just go sightseeing. I did have a near-accident when I waved at some locals while coming down a steep hill and a dog suddenly jumped out of the brush. He missed my front tire by a few inches at most.

    Of course, with the leisurely pace and hot weather I’d left my armored gear at home, so a crash would’ve cut me up pretty bad on the rocky dirt road. That would’ve really had me feeling like a moron.

    The roads on the ‘backside’ of the island were described to me as being barely passable and a difficult ride, and I found them a breeze. I suspect it’s highly dependent on the weather conditions, but once again people made things sound a lot worse than they really were.

    [​IMG]

    Looping back to where I started, I discovered there was a spot called Charco Verde, a park and butterfly sanctuary. A good opportunity for some hiking and saying hi to the locals:

    [​IMG]It’s a stunning little park with a beautiful tiny lake. I wish the tiny lake had a small island — that would make it an island on a lake on an island in a lake!

    [​IMG]

    More friendly Ometepe natives:

    [​IMG]

    Lots of gorgeous butterflies here, but they’re rather hard to photograph well. They just won’t sit still!

    [​IMG]

    The longer hiking trail spits you out at a beautiful black sand beach with a view of the other volcano, Volcán Maderas.

    [​IMG]

    Going back on the trail, there’s also a beautiful rocky outlook that overlooks the entire lake.

    [​IMG]

    Some friendly locals chatted with me about my ridiculous oversized dirt bike and gave me a nice parting gift:

    [​IMG]

    As a base of operations for the next few days I figured I’d go a little nicer than a campsite and get a hostel bed. My requirements were simple: some power, running water and a good bar. Little Morgan’s had all of those, and a nice view from the ‘crow’s nest’ tower in the middle of the property to boot.

    [​IMG]

    After dropping off my heavier camping gear I checked out some of the beautiful dirt roads the locals use for their cattle and farming.

    [​IMG]

    Volcán Conception:

    [​IMG]It was a gorgeous sunset. The volcanoes seem to always have their head in the clouds.

    Volcán Maderas:
    [​IMG]

    Every now and then a farmer would come by with his cattle, amused at the weirdo riding these roads for the fun of it.

    [​IMG][​IMG]

    They sure picked a great spot to be a farmer!

    Some of the fellow travelers at Little Morgan’s told me about pizza night at El Zopilote, a sort of hippie-hangout-cum-hostel that was a short walk up the hill from our hostel. I hadn’t had pizza in a while, so that sounded brilliant!

    [​IMG]

    El Zopilote seemed really nice. It lacked the riveting action of Little Morgan’s bar, though, which was the kind of place where you’d see people from any nationality and walk of life getting drunk together and making terrible life choices. Exactly my kind of spot.

    The ‘tab’ system of Little Morgan’s is unique: when you arrive you just kind of open a tab, and then you just pay for all your drinks and food at the end of your stay. It definitely has potential for forgetful-drunk sticker shock, but it makes it very easy to just order a few rounds.

    [​IMG]

    It’s very easy to make friends in a setting like this, which is exactly what I did. I needed a few friendly faces to go hike the volcano the next day!

    JAN 20

    After far too many drinks we all hiked up to El Zopilote at 5 AM to start our hike. We got a few pre-made sandwiches to pack and hiked out of the Zopilote property and through adjacent farms.

    [​IMG]

    It turns out the forests are also grazing grounds for local cattle!

    [​IMG]

    The dry dirt and low shrub of the rest of the island disappears quickly to lush forests and wet, clay-like mud on the slopes of the volcano. A beautiful view at our first rest stop:

    [​IMG]

    Unfortunately, it was a bit cloudy this morning. These cows don’t seem to mind, though:

    [​IMG]They must’ve won some kind of cow lottery to get to live in such a place!

    Some of my newly-made friends mentioned that it was recommended to go on a group hike with a tour because the trail was easily lost. I can attest to that: there were a lot of different trails, and it was a pretty minimally maintained trail up the mountain.
    [​IMG]

    And before you know it, we hit the clouds that always circle the top of the volcano.

    Clouds on fertile volcano slopes like this create a unique biome that countries like Costa Rica are so well known for: cloud forests. These kind of jungle forests have an absolute cornucopia in species living in and on the trees. The plentiful water in the air and sunlight creates a veritable explosion of life.

    [​IMG]

    It also makes the hike a fun muddy affair, with high moisture and water dripping off every plant:

    [​IMG][​IMG]

    One of the most stunning forest hikes I’d ever done. The photos make it look very easy, but it was a very stiff hike.

    [​IMG]

    As I was both out of shape and taking lots of photos, I was at the tail end of the pack, but my friend Nick from Baltimore didn’t mind. He was great company and a nice bright red reminder for me to keep my pace up.

    [​IMG]

    These hiking sticks were very nice on the steep uphills!

    [​IMG]

    The last thirty minutes were extremely cloudy, wet, and muddy. We came on a site of a landslide, which was a fun demonstration in the classic Central-American lackadaisical attitude to safety: when one of the members of our little hiking group asked what would happen if you slipped on the ultra-slippery muddy slope, the guide kind of shrugged and said ‘You’d probably die’.

    I guess we should probably not slip then!

    [​IMG]After a seriously tough hike we finally went downhill for about 10 minutes to hike into the volcano’s crater, which had a lake in it. Still covered in clouds, the view was… anticlimactic.

    But the sandwich was the best I’d ever had in my life. Nothing like hiking for a good six hours to work up your appetite. I even ate the little bag of mayonnaise it came with, which Annina and Nick found extremely funny. They later sent me a love note written with mayonnaise.

    [​IMG]

    My camera got a real workout in more ways than one. I should probably invest in a waterproof camera?

    [​IMG]

    Eh, it’ll be fine. I hope.

    I took a quick portrait of one of the hikers on the way down (I forget her name):
    [​IMG]

    And would you know it, barely any clouds by noon. All the hikes tend to start so early because it’s such a lengthy hike down, which would be difficult to do in the dark. Apparently some absolute madmen do a hike of both in one day, which I found absolutely inconceivable.

    [​IMG]

    Nothing but gorgeous nature on the way down:

    [​IMG]

    And here’s the rare image of the guy behind the camera, happy with the mayonnaise in his stomach and the prospect of celebratory beers at the bottom of the hill:

    [​IMG]

    I spent the last night with Annina and Nick from Baltimore, which were a lovely couple of gregarious and wonderful humans. We ate curry at a restaurant down the street and talked about life, Baltimore, San Francisco, and art. There’s so many inspiring people in the world, and I’m incredibly grateful that I somehow always end up making friends with them when I am on the road.

    [​IMG]

    The next morning it was time to pack up the bike and head out of the country. The next day, my girlfriend was arriving in Costa Rica and we’d get started on putting this trip on pause.

    ———

    JAN 21

    [​IMG]

    I said goodbye to all the chickens, dogs, cats and pigs of Little Morgan’s and paid my tab and rode back over the airstrip:
    [​IMG]

    I got yelled at for stopping there this day. I guess that isn’t the best of ideas.

    The ferry back from Ometepe has an additional exit-tax fee that you pay. I felt like I was just getting swindled, but upon looking it up I found it’s really a policy. Just a heads-up!

    [​IMG]

    Today would be a quick ride, but of course I’d budgeted essentially a full day for the border crossing. This was also the biggest border crossing I’d ever attempted to cross; typically I go for the smaller border crossings where fewer people cross to avoid the crowds. This time, I was right on the Pan-American highway.

    The Nicaraguan side’s vehicle administration has perhaps the most bizarre layout:

    [​IMG]

    Exiting Nicaragua was a very annoying and lengthy affair. Some would probably describe it as a pain in the ass. I had to find a customs official and a police officer to sign off on some documents, and take it to a variety of offices to get copies and more signatures before they could cancel my temporary vehicle import documents.

    Once I was done with that, they happily stamped my passport and sent me on my way. A military police officer at the border stopped me as I tried to ride out, asking for my new border office signature collection — which they’d taken at the hilariously empty office. A ride back and I got the papers and we were all set to enter the absolute nightmare that was the Costa Rican side:

    [​IMG]

    Ah, Costa Rica was popular! I was astonished to find it entirely different than the previous crossings, however: people spoke English, the offices looked more like a US border crossing, and it was all handled rather efficiently despite the crowds.

    That illusion of organization quickly fell by the wayside when I had to get paperwork done for the bike, though, which had me sent to a little back office where I had to jump between three different dudes until a trucker helped me with the exact paperwork I needed to get the bike into the country.

    [​IMG]

    I rode to Liberia and promptly broke my camera’s sole battery. It’s a good thing this trip was about to be put on pause…
  14. roadcapDen

    roadcapDen Ass, Grass or Gas, no free rides.

    Joined:
    Jan 26, 2012
    Oddometer:
    1,458
    Location:
    GTA, ON, CDA
    NICE!!!
    caliform likes this.
  15. caliform

    caliform Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2014
    Oddometer:
    879
    Location:
    San Francisco
    JAN 21 — FEB 1 2016

    As I mentioned in my last post, when I checked into my hotel in Liberia I stepped on my camera battery, which killed it. It’s ironic that all my abuse of it, including the very wet and hot hike I took it on in Ometepe left it unharmed but this would be its final straw. Unfortunately, being not so clever, I had no backup battery.

    That means far worse, and far fewer shots to conclude the 2016 segment of the Ride South. Pardon the photo quality in this post!

    January 22nd was here, which meant my girlfriend got in! I rode out of town in little more than a t-shirt and she was, shall we say, very happy to see me:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG][​IMG]

    We had a nice easy-going time in Liberia and set out to find her a helmet. We found one in a sort of odd store that sells everything, seemingly on layaway. A common type of store here. They were rather surprised when we paid for it all at once.

    [​IMG]

    The next day, we’d ride down to Playa Montezuma:

    [​IMG]

    The stretch on the east-most side of the Guanacaste peninsula was kind of a disaster. Supposedly it was a fairly new road, and it was even marked as yellow on Google Maps, which would make you assume it was a paved road… but it was a really rough, rocky trail that made me worried that the load of my girl and all her and my stuff on the back was finally going to snap my HP2’s weak rear subframe.

    We made it across, though! It was a pretty long day riding and ended up taking us about seven hours or so. Beers were well deserved at this point.

    [​IMG]

    Costa Rica is so fantastically beautiful. It’s a country that truly relies on its natural beauty to sustain itself, being highly reliant on eco-tourism. That means the vested interest of the locals and government is to maintain is natural beauty, and it shows. Costa Rica is (relatively) clean, with many protected parks and a wealth of biodiversity that is not threatened.

    [​IMG][​IMG]

    We spent a few days down in Montezuma just vacationing like a bunch of hippies.

    [​IMG]

    Enjoying good food — and not gallo pinto for once…

    [​IMG]

    I gave her a pair of pants I had bought for her in Guatemala!

    We played jungle kids with vines:

    [​IMG]

    I got to play in puddles:



    We went to swimming holes where you could climb about as far as your own fear of heights would allow to plunge into pristine spring water. We enjoyed the wealth of gorgeous parks the area had to offer and walked the beach at night surrounded by thousands of hermit crabs.

    And, of course, in the daytime we enjoyed Costa Rica’s fantastic beaches.

    [​IMG][​IMG]

    This particular beach was Malpais, and this fun little hippie town was on the other side of the Peninsula. Cars and the likes took a roundabout way to it, but we took this route:

    [​IMG]

    It was one of those roads the locals called 'nearly impassable' and ‘not fun’.

    You know what that means: Fun!

    [​IMG]

    I happen to LOVE those kind of roads!

    [​IMG]

    Ah, double the eye candy:

    [​IMG][​IMG]

    But, all good things come to an end: it was time for us to go home.

    The beautiful windy road out of Montezuma is a delight. We barely made the ferry to the mainland, from where we took a quick highway slab to the capital of San José.

    [​IMG][​IMG]

    Beautiful views from the ferry:

    [​IMG]

    This part of our trip to Argentina was limited by my time away from work and home, and I had to go back. That meant storing a bike in Costa Rica.

    When you leave the country, your vehicle can’t stay: it’s stamped in your passport and your paperwork requires that your vehicle leaves after no more than 90 days. Costa Rica lets you get around this by storing your vehicle in a bonded storage of sorts, known as an Alamacen Fiscal. There’s multiple near the airport in San José, the Costa Rican capital.

    [​IMG]

    My girlfriend flew out first.

    [​IMG]

    We had stayed at the Hilton near the airport, but it was a bit pricy for my taste. Assuming I’d need a few days to sort out all the particulars, I had four nights in the super-cheap pizzeria-and-hotel combo Berlor hotel about a 5 minute ride down the road.

    I did some research and found that the cheapest one was also the closest to the airport. Unfortunately, it’s not covered, and it’s still $3 per day. Negotiating got me nowhere, so I decided to go with them.

    [​IMG][​IMG]

    Storing the bike was surprisingly easy. First, I had to do some paperwork in the actual bonded storage office. Once that was all completed, I simply rode the bike into the designated spot, prepped it a bit for storage.

    [​IMG][​IMG]

    I wrapped some parts in plastic and covered as much as I could — they would also tarp it later. They then take the key, and stamp your paperwork to confirm your vehicle is now in their custody.

    [​IMG]

    With those papers in hand I took the 3 minute cab ride to the customs office. It’s adjacent to the airport, and I should’ve really just walked it. It was a quick and easy process to get the suspension of the temporary vehicle import papers done, and all copies were done by the Aduana officer.

    [​IMG]

    How cool that this officer in particular rocks a Ride Earth sticker on his computer! :D

    After completing that, I was free to go. I kind of regretted assuming this would take so much time. The guys at the hotel were very nice, and really helped me get around town when I was motorcycle-less. I stayed for one more night in my adorably strange (but incredibly cheap, by Costa Rican standards) hotel / pizzeria and caught a flight out the next day.

    [​IMG][​IMG]

    Back home to the usual life… until I return.
  16. caliform

    caliform Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2014
    Oddometer:
    879
    Location:
    San Francisco
    And with that, we're all caught up! I'm now 25 hours away from getting on a plane with two dry-bags full of motorcycle parts, gear, and tons of photo and video equipment.

    I never assumed it'd take myself this long to be able to get back on the road. Life happens. I'm a bit scared to find out what the bike will look like when I get down there. But I do know I have an immense passion to get back on it, fix her up and get on the road South.

    We have a deadline: December 3rd, we'll be crossing from Panama to Colombia on the Stahlratte. Wish us luck!

    And for Stu?

    Stu, who went on an adventure of his own through Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and finally all sorts of parts of Costa Rica ended up selling his KLR there in 2016, and will be returning with an HP2 of his own! He's riding down to SoCal tomorrow to start the process of shipping it south, hoping to make the crossing in Panama December 3rd. The two dudes ride again, and this time with twice as many German dirt bikes!
  17. caliform

    caliform Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2014
    Oddometer:
    879
    Location:
    San Francisco
    Well, after a few hours in Costa Rica, I've gotten all the requisite paperwork and... they don't want to release the vehicle.

    In a rule that apparently is in the paperwork you sign when you enter the country, you agree that any vehicle left for more than a year, even in an government bonded storage (Alamacen Fiscal) is surrendered to the government. That means you cannot get a new temporary vehicle import permit to ride it out; you have to nationalize it or surrender interest in it forever. It's now lunchtime, we've gotten this answer from various customs people including El Hefe at Aduana Santamaria, now we're just waiting to see what they say the impuestas (taxes) would be to do just that. This might be a trip-killer; if the taxes are the full amount, it can be obscenely expensive. On the other hand, the people at the alamacen were confident it would be a few hundred $.

    We'll see. Experiences very welcome. This really sucks.
  18. caliform

    caliform Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2014
    Oddometer:
    879
    Location:
    San Francisco
    [​IMG]

    Bad news.

    Well, still no good news. Via the local BMW shop we got information of a guy who's apparently good at figuring situations like this out, but I have to communicate in complicated Spanish which makes it harder. Just assessing the impuestos (nationalization tax) for the bike has taken a while, which it seems is normal here. We hope to get an answer on that this morning, but it might be in excess of $10,000.

    At that point I'd probably ask the BMW shop if they want to buy the bike because I'm not going to pay $10k just to get my bike back. We've emailed Ludwig on the Stahlratte that we can't make it for our crossing December 3rd; there's no way even if we pay the clearance taxes that we can get the vehicle working, out of storage, certified and inspected (a necessary step) and plated/titled. No good news there: he's left dock in Cartagena and doesn't have internet.

    Pretty rotten situation. We're here with a lot of parts and a pair of tires; we'll move hotels today to one further away from the airport while we try to sort it out.
  19. roadcapDen

    roadcapDen Ass, Grass or Gas, no free rides.

    Joined:
    Jan 26, 2012
    Oddometer:
    1,458
    Location:
    GTA, ON, CDA
    Shite, maybe @Reaver can help with suggestions?!
    caliform likes this.
  20. td63

    td63 Been here awhile Supporter

    Joined:
    Apr 20, 2016
    Oddometer:
    491
    Location:
    Moscow, Idaho
    WTF??

    I have no direct experience but have found patience and perseverance eventually turns most border "no" to "maybe" to "yes". But you know that.

    But, anyway, I'm not giving up hope for you and just sending you my utterly worthless positive mojo vibes!!
    caliform likes this.